Expats: Free Birds or Jail Birds

When asked why foreigners immigrate to Nicaragua, often they say,  I just want to feel free, like never before. My response is usually, Free from what? Does Nicaragua offer more freedom than we can obtain in our home countries? If so, what are those freedoms and are there restrictions to our freedom while living in Nicaragua?

I’m reminded of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s song, Free Bird. It is a metaphor for life.  “Things just couldn’t be the same. ‘Cause I’m as free as a bird now,” the group sings. Life happens whether we want it to or not. Since life passes so quickly, I figured that I might as well jump right into the thick of it…take calculated risks…live my dreams…change and grow. I couldn’t handle staying where things were always the same day after day. Life seemed to be passing me by, and I needed a change where I could spread my wings and fly. Nicaragua gave me that change.

What freedoms do we have in Nicaragua?

Some expat business owners say that they have more freedom to conduct business in Nicaragua. I assume that means there isn’t as much bureaucracy. Others interpret freedom to mean less financial stress and less work.  For me, now that we are retired, freedom = lifetime pensions. We can live comfortably on a fixed income in Nicaragua.

As expats, we express our freedom in many creative ways. We are artists, builders, writers, chefs, teachers, and photographers. We cherish our freedom and our rights to free speech. We defend our home countries, and pack our traditions, values, cultures, and symbols of freedom to display in our adopted country.

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New Regulations for Nicaragua: Mandarin Required

Breaking news! In a dramatic policy change, the legislative branch of Nicaragua, the National Assembly, confirmed today that Mandarin will become the official language of Nicaragua. An amendment to the Nicaraguan Constitution requires all foreign residents and nationals to pass a Mandarin proficiency test.

In expectation of thousands of Chinese immigrants entering Nicaragua to work on the proposed Nicaraguan canal, the spokesperson for the President of the National Assembly states that the rule change is a result of concerns that national and foreign residents will not easily assimilate into local communities where the Chinese immigrants will settle. Without a solid foundation of the Mandarin language, it will adversely affect the local populations.

In a prepared statement being distributed to foreign embassies, consulates, and the Nicaraguan embassy, as well as immigration offices in Managua, the National Assembly states, “We recognize that Mandarin proficiency will be a major predictor to adapt to Nicaragua and a new Chinese culture. We have become increasingly concerned about recent clashes between the Chinese and local residents. Language problems may be causing the clashes due to cultural differences and misunderstandings.”
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Duped on Ometepe Island?

         “Tricks and treachery are the practice of fools, that don’t have brains    enough to be honest.” ~ Benjamin Franklin


I think I have been duped! Last week, a Department of Health medical brigade (MINSA) came to Ometepe Island offering medical services. They walked door to door accompanied by a police officer on a motorcycle.

It’s common to see a MINSA medical brigade here. When severe flooding eroded the shoreline, MINSA came door to door passing out free antibiotics for Leptospirosis. During the rainy season, they pass out a poison powder to sprinkle in standing water where mosquitoes may breed. But, they never come accompanied by the police, and they are always local MINSA employees.

Marina was cleaning my house, and I was raking the yard when I saw the medical brigade come to my door. I didn’t catch the beginning of the conversation and my Spanish vocabulary with medical words is severely lacking. Although much of the conversation was lost in translation, this is my interpretation of the conversation that took place:

Male nurse: We are offering free medical exams at the hospital on Friday and Saturday.

Me: Great! Sign up my husband and me.

Male Nurse: No. I can’t do that. It is an exam of your ‘bahena’.

Me: What is a bahena and why can’t my husband get the exam, too?

Me: Is it an exam for your heart? For your stomach?

Laughter all around.

Marina: No. It is an exam of your ‘bahena’ and a papagramo exam. ( she said while holding back a chuckle)

Male Nurse: Laughing, while he pointed to my vagina.

More laughter.

Me: Oh, I get it. You are offering free vaginal exams and Pap tests. Sign me up.

I signed a sheet of paper and included my telephone number so they could call me for the time of the appointment. Friday and Saturday passed, and I never received a call. Then, I read this in La Prensa:

courtesy of La Prensa

courtesy of La Prensa


For three consecutive days an alleged brigade of the Ministry of Health, heavily guarded by police, has tried uselessly to get into the communities of Sacramento, Moyogalpa, Ometepe Island, where residents maintain an armed encampment with sticks, stones and even machetes. Alberto Lopez, the county Esquipulas, Moyogalpa, said villagers reject the action of MoH for ordering information and ask their opinion on the Canal.

Here lots of times have been brigades of the Ministry of Health, to vaccinate and dispense medicines and they have never come up with police and military riot police, so people joined and they will not be allowed to come to our communities, Lopez said.

He noted that the communities where the brigade is interested in the survey is in Esquipulas, Los Angeles and Sacramento. People decided to keep them out because we want to tell you that nobody here wants to sell their property, are in our territory and we are defending what is ours, argued López.

Juan Barrios, who lives in the Sacramento community, again reported that island communities have returned to ring their church bells to alert the public when pollsters brigade and police and riot police trying to enter the community.

For three days straight doing this encampment to ask these interviewers leave here and the police will say we are not willing to get us out of our territory. Today (last Friday) morning, the police tried to persuade for maintence, but the response of Sacramento was to leave here said Barrios.Juan Barrios, a resident of the community of Sacramento, said when the brigade withdrew assumptions threatened to not send medicines to the health center of the town and told not to return for that place. Villagers said they will not move until the brigade and the police desist from entering the community to ask personal data on the draft of the Grand Canal.

So what exactly did I sign? Who knows? I had been warned by local friends…after the fact…never to sign my name to anything. Have I been duped? Probably. I may have signed a petition in support of the grand canal. They never asked me any questions about the canal…I suppose that once they figured that I didn’t know what a ‘bahena’ was that I would stupidly sign anything. And, I did!

We assume so many things in living in Nicaragua. I want to believe that the police are here to protect us. I want to believe that the Ministry of Health is only offering medical services that we are unable to get on Ometepe Island. I want to believe that the Nicaraguan government wouldn’t use tricks and treachery to gain support for the Nicaraguan canal.

I’ve learned never to assume anything and never to sign anything without questioning.  Always expect the unexpected while living in the land of the not quite right. Life goes on…but I’ll always wonder what I signed…and probably never find out the truth.


International Human Rights Day in Nicaragua

“The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.”
― John F. Kennedy

December 10th is International Human Rights Day. In honor of this day, a great March Against the Nicaraguan Canal is scheduled in Managua. This year’s theme is Human Rights 365.

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Speculating about the Nicaragua Canal Project

“Speculation is an effort, probably unsuccessful, to turn a little money into a lot. Investment is an effort, which should be successful, to prevent a lot of money from becoming a little.”
― Fred Schwed Jr.


from La Prensa Newspaper

from La Prensa Newspaper

Yesterday, October 24, 2014, over 4,000 people protested on Ometepe Island against the Nicaragua Canal Project. Ron and I didn’t go to the protests because we are guests in this country and we didn’t feel it was appropriate to demonstrate. However, that doesn’t stop me from speculating about the effects this canal will have on our adopted country and its resilient people.

Read more to find out if the Dragon will spit fire on Nicaragua’s natural resources.

The Nicaraguan Canal: Digging with a Needle

 “Getting money is like digging with a needle, spending it is like water soaking into sand.” ~Japanese Proverb.

          The Proposed Route of the Nicaraguan Canal

canal route copy
I may be naïve, but I subscribe to the idea that nobody is making strategic decisions about the Nicaraguan Canal Project. I’ve followed the Nicaraguan Canal Project for two years, now. The talk is grand, but the transparency surrounding the canal is nonexistent.

Keep reading.There’s a great video ahead.

Snowden in Nicaragua?

“US fugitive Edward Snowden has abandoned his request for political asylum in Russia after learning he would have to stop leaking intelligence reports, the Kremlin said Tuesday, as the American awaited asylum decisions from 20 other countries.” (Dmitry Zaks, AFP, July 2, 2013).

According to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, other countries in which Snowden may seek asylum include China, Cuba, France, Germany, Italy, India, Nicaragua and Spain. Nicaragua??? My expat home?  I’m torn with conflicting emotions if Nicaragua were to accept Snowden.

On the one hand, I believe that Snowden is a whistleblower, not a traitor. A traitor is someone who gives information to the enemy. Are ‘We the People’ the enemy? Don’t we have a right to know about our government’s secret surveillance program, especially if it is ‘We the People’ who are being watched?

Certainly, it is no secret because George W. Bush authorized warrantless wiretapping of international communications after the September 11, 2001 attacks as part of the war on terrorism. In 2005, public disclosure ignited the outrage of the potential misuse of data mining of e-mail messages and telephone call records in the NSA call database. We’ve known about this for years.

I’m siding with Snowden on this issue.  He is not a traitor, only a concerned citizen who risked his life and his professional career to inform us of the potential dangers of warrantless wiretapping and government surveillance of its own citizens.  Let’s face it, we all know that we are being watched, not only by our government, but by the marketing media who records every click, every ‘like’, and every internet move we make in the digital age.

The other day, I was researching metal detectors and protest music. Weird combination, I know, but sometimes in my mind works in mysterious ways. In looking for protest music on YouTube, a little ad at the bottom of the video tried to direct me to metal detectors. What??? How could they possibly know that I was researching metal detectors? Honestly, browser snooping scares me. It unnerves me to think that my every move on the internet is recorded for marketing purposes.

Yet, what frightens me more are the potential problems for Nicaragua. If Snowden were to receive asylum in my expat country would I offer him my guest house as a reprieve from the mad warlock hunt? Impulsively, I would say, “Yes”. I admire his bravery and his tenacity.  On the other hand, I imagine this scenario or nightmare…your choice:

Snowden snuggles peacefully under the mosquito net in our guest house, while unidentified flying objects circle the periphery of our property. Strangers disguised as lone fishermen, paddle around the lake wearing night goggles and Google glasses. Economic sanctions by the U.S. prohibit the export of Nicaraguan coffee, gold, and beef. The United States, Nicaragua’s main trading partner who bought 29% of Nicaragua’s exports in 2012, stops trading with Nicaragua. All U.S. expats and tourists are stopped at every border crossing, strip searched and aggressively interrogated. Legal expats can no longer leave or enter Nicaragua without special permission from the U.S. Tourism comes to an abrupt halt. Fear overwhelms the local people struggling to make a living because all trading has stopped. NGOs are prohibited from sending donations and supplies to Nicaragua. Nicaragua, my beloved adopted country, quickly loses all economic gains it has made in recent years.

If Edward Snowden knocks on my door in my little oasis of peace, I’m afraid  I would have to say, “Sorry, Edward. I admire your bravery, but I am a coward with too much at risk. Please find another country for political asylum.” For you see, I love Nicaragua more than I admire Snowden’s courageous whistle blowing. Life is all about making informed decisions. Every choice has a consequence whether good or bad, right or wrong, bitter or sweet. Laurie Buchanon says, “The life we live is an expression of the choices we make.” I chose Nicaragua before, and I will choose Nicaragua again. Surely, Snowden understands that individual choices can have global consequences. I wish you the best, Edward Snowden. Safe travels in your search for peace and political asylum.

Snowden in Nicaragua?

Election Day Madness

Today are the Nicaraguan municipal elections throughout the country. Sober voters will march to the polls after church because the government suspended all liquor sales on Saturday at noon. It is impossible to buy liquor until Monday at noon. Too bad because with all of the election day madness in the states…I need a stiff drink!

Last week, I received an invitation to the U.S. Presidential election celebration held at the U.S. Embassy in Managua. The reason I received the invitation is because I am the U.S. Embassy Warden representative for Ometepe Island. Basically, it is a fancy title for a messenger. When the U.S. Embassy has a message for U.S. citizens, they email me the message and I relay it through our expat Google group on the island. It’s just a matter of copy…save…paste.

Yet, I was really excited to attend this celebration and honored to be invited. I started making plans for Ron and I to attend. We needed fancy clothes, new shoes, and a safe hotel in Managua. My friend, Theresa, was going to let me rummage through all of her fancy party clothes since we are about the same size. My baby needed a new pair of shoes. We knew this was going to be a challenge finding appropriate shoes on the island, but we were ready to tackle any and all obstacles that got in our way of attending the gala.  Excitement flowed through the air at our house like static electricity.

I emailed my RSVP to the embassy. “Yes, my husband and I will be attending. Thank you so much for the invitation. We are excited to attend.” However, the emailed response I received shattered my plans like a glass machete. “Your husband is not invited.”

But, why? Is there increased security at all U.S. Embassies throughout the world because of acts of terror? When I called the embassy, they told me that there simply wasn’t enough room in the small embassy for my husband. It reminded me of the time we took our small dog camping with us. When we registered, the receptionist asked us if we had any pets because they were prohibited in the campground. “Yes, but he is only a little dog,” I replied.

I’m disappointed. I don’t feel comfortable going to Managua alone and certainly not traveling by taxi at night to and from the embassy. I politely expressed my disappointment and declined the invitation for the U.S. Embassy U.S. Presidential election night celebration.  It looks like we will celebrate our own Presidential election day madness here on the island…but, on the upside…we’ll be able to buy beer and rum …wear flip-flops…and shout at the TV…as long as we have electricity. :-)

Binders Full of Nicaraguan Women

Thanks to tumblir for the picture

Mitt Romney’s faux pas during the second Presidential debate would NEVER be understood in Nicaragua. When he claimed to have been presented with “binders full of women”, my only thought was of the plight of Nicaraguan women. There are many dusty binders of Nicaraguan women stacked on police officers’ shelves, only they are full of  reports of domestic violence, abuse, exploitation, and sex trafficking…certainly not women’s resumes.

How do I explain equal rights to my impoverished neighbor with three children under the age of three, who washes dirty diapers by hand in the lake, cooks every meal over a fire, while sweeping the trash from her dirt floor into the street, and tending to the needs of her invalid father-in-law? Adioska doesn’t have a clue about resumes or equal pay in a country where the average take-home pay for men is $100 a month. She lives in survival mode daily… from one crisis to another.

What can I tell her? It’s your duty to fight for women’s rights? Last October, a 12-year-old girl, who was raped and impregnated by her step-father, gave birth to a five-pound baby boy.  “According to the Strategic Group of the Decriminalization of Therapeutic Abortion, 1,453 of the young girls (ages 10-14) who were raped in Nicaragua last year were forced to give birth due to Nicaragua’s total ban on therapeutic abortion.” See article here. Under Nicaraguan law, the 12-year-old mother was denied access to a therapeutic abortion, becoming a poster child for the Sandinista government’s ban on abortion in all circumstances.

Gender-based violence is a serious problem in Nicaragua. Poverty, close family ties, and a lack of basic education contribute to thousands of victims’ inability to escape abuse and exploitation. Although the majority of Nicaraguans oppose gender-based violence              (including men), the challenge is what to do once the abuse has occurred. But, not all remains dire in the binders of Nicaraguan women.

On January 26, 2012, the Nicaraguan Parliament unanimously approved a Comprehensive Violence Against Women’s Act.  This law recognizes femicide ( killing of women) and other violence against women as criminal acts and punishable under Nicaraguan law. The government established a commission, strengthening government agencies that provide services for women and children, as well as providing training and information for all government officials and the general public. Female police officers specializing in domestic violence are available in every department of Nicaragua. We even have a trained specialist in our little port town of Moyogalpa! Of course, funding for human service programs is a universal problem.

Domestic violence safe houses are popping up in local communities. The Solidarity House, a shelter for women and girls, is located in San Juan Del Sur. It is one of five shelters in Nicaragua that provides assistance to women and young girls. The other shelters are in Managua, Waslala, Ocotal, and Puerto Cabezas.

It is a fledgling beginning. Meanwhile, the little 12 year-old who gave birth to her stepfather’s child, is living at home. Her mother lives with the rapist of her daughter, as if nothing happened. She has been robbed of her childhood…her self-esteem…her life. Adioska continues to nurture and care for her family. She’s too busy to attend the rallies advocating for women’s rights, but she is aware and encouraged by the attention and focus given to women in Nicaragua.

There is still a long way to go before women’s rights are fully recognized in Nicaragua. Yet, the binders are slowly filling up with new laws protecting women and children. Maybe someday, we can hope for binders full of women’s resumes, instead of reports of violence. That’s my wish for Nicaraguan women and children. Poco y poco.